Women’s body image – women and men both hold the power for positive change

I would like to start by saying that when I am not inundated with certain images of women, I love my body and my face, I feel like a beautiful woman, I feel so comfortable, lovely and happy in my own skin, as I’m sure most women do. But then we turn on the TV, watch a movie, read a newspaper or are subjected to magazine covers and advertising in shops, shopping centre’s, supermarkets, and on the street, or we watch our partners soaking in and benefiting from these images that permeate our existence, and then, oh boy, watch how fast our self esteem can plummet and we feel like an unworthy unattractive unlovable being.

On a media program this morning a psychologist stated that negative body image is the number one concern for over 40% of Australian women (though I think that statistic is putting it lightly, going off the number of women I know, meet and talk to about this, the percentage is much higher). And here are the facts of how and why we can become so quickly deflated and stripped of our right to feel beautiful and worthy.

 Media Awareness Network’ ask in ‘Beauty and body image in the media’

Why are standards of beauty being imposed on women, the majority of whom are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models? The roots, some analysts say, are economic. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. And it’s no accident that youth is increasingly promoted, along with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty. If not all women need to lose weight, for sure they’re all aging, says the Quebec Action Network for Women’s Health in its 2001 report Changements sociaux en faveur de la diversité des images corporelles. And, according to the industry, age is a disaster that needs to be dealt with.

The stakes are huge. On the one hand, women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy beauty products, new clothes, and diet aids. It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth anywhere between 40 to 100 billion (U.S.) a year selling temporary weight loss (90 to 95% of dieters regain the lost weight).1 On the other hand, research indicates that exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls.

Unattainable Beauty

Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that media images of female beauty are unattainable for all but a very small number of women. Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition. Jill Barad president of Mattel (which manufactures Barbie) estimated that 99% of girls aged 3 to 10 years old own at least one Barbie doll.3

Still, the number of real life women and girls who seek a similarly underweight body is epidemic, and they can suffer equally devastating health consequences. In 2006 it was estimated that up to 450, 000 Canadian women were affected by an eating disorder. Advertising rules the marketplace and in advertising thin is “in.” Twenty years ago, the average model weighed 8 per cent less than the average woman—but today’s models weigh 23 per cent less. Advertisers believe that thin models sell products.

Self-Improvement or Self-Destruction?

The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells “ordinary” women that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected.

Jean Kilbourne argues that the overwhelming presence of media images of painfully thin women means that real women’s bodies have become invisible in the mass media. The real tragedy, Kilbourne concludes, is that many women internalize these stereotypes, and judge themselves by the beauty industry’s standards. Women learn to compare themselves to other women, and to compete with them for male attention. This focus on beauty and desirability “effectively destroys any awareness and action that might help to change that climate.”

“We don’t need Afghan-style burquas to disappear as women. We disappear in reverse—by revamping and revealing our bodies to meet externally imposed visions of female beauty.” Source: Robin Gerber, author and motivational speaker

http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm

Media awareness network state on ‘Sex and Relationships in the Media’

The National Eating Disorders Association reports that one out of four TV commercials send some kind of “attractiveness message,” telling viewers what is and is not attractive.

Provocative images of women’s partly clothed or naked bodies are especially prevalent in advertising. Shari Graydon, former president of Canada’s Media Action Média, argues that women’s bodies are sexualized in ads in order to grab the viewer’s attention. Women become sexual objects when their bodies and their sexuality are linked to products that are bought and sold.

Media activist Jean Kilbourne agrees. She notes that women’s bodies are often dismembered into legs, breasts or thighs, reinforcing the message that women are objects rather than whole human beings.

Laurie Abraham, executive editor of Elle magazine, warns that the biggest problem with women’s magazines is “how much we lie about sex.” Those “lies” continue to perpetuate the idea that women’s sexuality is subservient to men’s pleasure. In her study of Cosmopolitan and Playboy magazines, for example, Nicole Krassas found that both men and women’s magazines contain a single vision of female sexuality—that “women should primarily concern themselves with attracting and sexually satisfying men.”

Jean Kilbourne concludes, sex in the media “has far more to do with trivializing sex than with promoting it. The problem is not that it is sinful but that it is synthetic and cynical. We are offered a pseudo-sexuality that makes it far more difficult to discover our own unique and authentic sexuality.”

http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_sex.cfm

Sexualized Images in Advertising by Jane Tallim, Media Awareness Network May 2003

Over the past ten years, advertisements in mainstream magazines have increasingly relied on the explicit sexualization of both men and women to sell products. Over the same period, the models used have become younger and younger. The images in these ads often imply – violence, superiority and domination, dismemberment (fragmenting and sexualizing body parts), playfullness and exaggeration, coy behaviour, approval seeking, emaciation, drug addiction and fetishism.

It’s not unusual in the fashion industry to see very young models setting standards of attractiveness for older women. What’s new is the emergence over the past two decades of highly eroticized portrayals of these young women.

[Go to http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/upload/article_sexualized_images.pdf to view some examples of this form of main stream advertising for yourself]

Sex Sells

Advertising often pushes the boundaries of good taste because of competition for “eyeballs.” Any image that entices a reader to linger over an ad – whether tasteful or not – causes that person to remember the particular brand advertised. Even controversy can be effective in getting a brand or name into the public eye (as Calvin Klein has often proved).

There can be no denying that “sex sells.” Abercrombie & Fitch, one of the most successful and trendy US clothing manufacturers, now puts its catalogues (which are geared to college students) in plastic bags to prevent them from being opened casually, because of controversy over the sexualized images of young people contained in them.

Increased sexualization in advertising is not happening in isolation; rather, it reflects the overall pushing of the envelope that is occurring throughout the media. In film, television, music videos and popular culture, sex is increasingly pervasive and mainstream – for example, music videos of artists such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have been directed by well-known directors of pornographic films.

This article also goes into another atrocity of mass media, the Effect of Sexualized Images on Children

http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/upload/article_sexualized_images.pdf

How does advertising’s increasing encroachment into every niche of mass media impact our culture in general, and women in particular? Mothers Who Think asked pioneering advertising critic Jean Kilbourne, author of “Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.”

A favorite on the college lecture circuit, Kilbourne has produced videos that are used as part of media literacy programs worldwide, in particular “Killing Us Softly,” first produced in 1979 and remade as “Killing Us Softly III” in 2000. She shares her thoughts here about advertising’s effects on women, children, media and our cultural environment — and explains why salvation can’t be found in a Nike sports bra.

‘The truth is, most men gain insight into women not through quick fixes but by having close relationships with them over time, sometimes painfully. In the world of advertising, relationships are instant and the best ones aren’t necessarily with people.’

By now most of us know that these images are unrealistic and unhealthy, that implants leak, anorexia and bulimia can kill and, in real life, model Heidi Klum has pores. So why do the images in ads still have such sway over us?

Most people like to think advertising doesn’t affect them. But if that were really true, why would companies spend over $200 billion a year on advertising? Women don’t buy into this because we’re shallow or vain or stupid but because the stakes are high. Overweight women do tend to face biases — they’re less likely to get jobs; they’re poorer. Men do leave their wives for younger, more beautiful women as their wives age. There is manifest contempt and real-life consequences for women who don’t measure up. These images work to keep us in line.’

Adolescent girls constantly get the message that they should diminish themselves, they should be less than what they are. Girls are told not to speak up too much, not to be too loud, not to have a hearty appetite for food or sex or anything else. Girls are literally shown being silenced in ads, often with their hands over their mouth or, as in one ad, with a turtleneck sweater pulled up over their mouth.

One ad sold lipstick with a drawing of a woman’s lips sucking on a pacifier. A girl in a particularly violent entertainment ad has her lips sewn shut.

There are also many, many ads in which women are pitted against each other for male attention. For example, there’s one ad with a topless woman on a bed and the copy “What the b**** who’s about to steal your man wears.” Other ads feature young women fighting or glaring at each other. This means that when girls hit adolescence, at a time when they most need support from each other, they’re encouraged to turn on each other in competition for men. It’s tragic, because the truth is that one of the most powerful antidotes to destructive cultural messages is close and supportive female friendships.

Jennifer L. Pozner is Women’s Desk Director at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a national media watch group.   More Jennifer L. Pozner

http://www.salon.com/2001/01/30/kilbourne/

Hooked – The average person in the U.S is bombarded with over 3,000 ads a day, says activist Jean Kilbourne. Is it any wonder we’re addicted? By Clea Simon in Ms. Magazine.

The woman at the podium is smiling, her voice a little breathless, as if she were just a tad nervous about her reception. The image projected behind her, a larger-than-life Revlon ad, is of a woman who is neither breathless nor smiling, but instead presents a lacquered, doll-like blankness.”We are surrounded by such images of ideal beauty,” says Jean Kilbourne, reminding the audience—as she has in more than a thousand college lecture halls around the country—that we are all being judged against this porcelain perfection. And that when we are compared to such a standard, “failure is inevitable.”

We all eventually “have the bad taste, the poor judgment, to grow older,” she says in a low and friendly voice that gains confidence the longer she talks. Kilbourne pauses as her audience murmurs with the familiar laughter of recognition. The connection has been made. They see what she sees: how the ideal is unattainable, and more importantly, how it is being used against us.

For Kilbourne, that message has become a mission. As one of the preeminent scholars on the effects of advertising, Kilbourne has shown, through lectures, films, and a book, how marketing has perfected the science of seducing us. How its glossy allure can leave us feeling somewhat less than human. In the ideal presented by advertising, “our face becomes a mask,” she says to the assembled students, as she clicks through slides of cosmetics ads, all featuring flawless faces. “And our body becomes a thing.” Listening to her speak, one could almost think that Kilbourne is discovering these truths for the first time. Her indignation seems so fresh and immediate that you’d never imagine she’s been lecturing with unflagging passion on this topic for more than 20 years. Her voice is calm, even a little sad now that she’s flashing picture after picture of women with impossibly smooth, overwhelmingly Caucasian features onto the screen. “And turning a human being into a thing,” she continues, “is often the first step toward justifying violence.” The next series of ads begins by showing women as props, intended to make cars or apartments more attractive; it then shifts to tight shots of butts and thighs, and finally mere parts. Dismembered limbs. Meat.

Later, sitting in the kitchen of the Victorian house she shares with her 13-year-old daughter near Boston, Kilbourne is still eager to talk about her ideas. Yes, she lives this stuff. Yes, she says, there are many ads that we all recognize as sexist, the silly ones that use our bodies to advertise beer or boats, or her own personal bête noire, cigarettes. And many of us are also aware of the subliminal messages of the cosmetics industry: that we must, in the words of William Butler Yeats, “labour to be beautiful,” even if that means sacrificing our health to fad diets and our money to the producers of paints and powders. Although women today are as media savvy as we’ve ever been, we are exposed to something like three thousand ads each day, she estimates. And so, despite our intelligence and despite our growing cynicism, the message—that we are not good enough as we are and need certain products&3151;seeps through.

Read more at http://www.msmagazine.com/jan01/hooked_jan01.html

Many Australians have a negative body image

NEGATIVE body image? You’re not alone. Many of us are unhappy with what we see in the mirror.

Women have an average of 13 negative things to say about themselves each day, according to a recent US survey. The quest for the “perfect” body has become normal for many women. The cost of this social issue is it continues to churn out generations of women who believe they are not good enough.

>> What women are thinking

Recent research reveals just how ingrained negative body image is in women: Ninety-seven per cent of women will say something negative about their body every day, such as: “I hate my thighs”, “I hate my stomach” or “I’m ugly”, a US survey reports. The first thing women notice about other women is how fat they are, a UK study of 2000 women found. Ninety per cent of women aged 15 to 64 want to change at least one aspect of their appearance, most of all their body weight, according to an international survey.

>> Bad body image begins early

Dietitian and co-author of The Good Enough Diet (Wiley), Tara Diversi, says body image issues exist across all age groups. “Girls as young as five have strong ideas about weight, such as fat is bad and skinny is good,” she says.

These values often develop into unhealthy eating behaviours in adolescence and beyond. An international survey found 68 per cent of 15-year-old girls are on a diet, while an Australian report found 30 per cent of women aged 18 to 23 have experimented with purging, laxatives or fasting to lose weight.

There are four main factors contributing to women’s negative body image, according to Diversi One of which is Models in media

Research shows the more women see pictures of perfect women in the media, the more they believe they should look like that. “This happens even though women know pictures have clearly been airbrushed,” Diversi says. “The rational brain knows it’s not real, but the emotional brain doesn’t.”
Read more http://www.news.com.au/national/the-bad-body-image-epidemic/story-e6frfkvr-1226082231311

This is an epidemic negatively impacting on us as individuals, the women and girls in our lives and our society. We aren’t making this up or ‘banging on about feminist crap’, the evidence is in and it’s clear. It is time for change. And though our impact on mass media may be a slow journey, we can realise change in our own lives and in our relationships; romantic and family.

This is not just a mission or journey for women alone. The men in our lives have power also. The power of choice, the power of support, the power of standing beside us and turning away from these images also, the power of speaking up.

We won’t be silenced

3 thoughts on “Women’s body image – women and men both hold the power for positive change

  1. Reblogged this on Feeling Good About Feminism and commented:
    So many good things in this post. Read the whole thing and definitely listen to the song at the end!! 🙂
    Some excerpts that really called out to me include:
    “Jean Kilbourne concludes, sex in the media “has far more to do with trivializing sex than with promoting it. The problem is not that it is sinful but that it is synthetic and cynical. We are offered a pseudo-sexuality that makes it far more difficult to discover our own unique and authentic sexuality.”…..
    ‘The truth is, most men gain insight into women not through quick fixes but by having close relationships with them over time, sometimes painfully. In the world of advertising, relationships are instant and the best ones aren’t necessarily with people’…..
    Adolescent girls constantly get the message that they should diminish themselves, they should be less than what they are. Girls are told not to speak up too much, not to be too loud, not to have a hearty appetite for food or sex or anything else. Girls are literally shown being silenced in ads, often with their hands over their mouth or, as in one ad, with a turtleneck sweater pulled up over their mouth….
    This means that when girls hit adolescence, at a time when they most need support from each other, they’re encouraged to turn on each other in competition for men. It’s tragic, because the truth is that one of the most powerful antidotes to destructive cultural messages is close and supportive female friendships.”

    1. Hi, lovely to meet you in the ether 🙂 Thanks so much for reblogging my post, the facts are astounding, we women need to rise out of all these detrimental cultural messages, but how? Together! Armed with what? Information, positive solutions and inspiration from each other. Real women of the world unite for positive, healthy, safe imagery of women. Many blessings to you, Lily 🙂

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